People who are black?
That was me – a white pawn aged about four, I reckon. Until then, my only experience of diversity had been a comic annual that displayed a load of dark-skinned tribesmen* and their bonesome nose-jewellery.
Of course, my subconscious being what it is, I’d had nightmares that they were gonna eat me and use the sharpest bits of MY skeleton as piercings.
Then there was Tom and Jerry – where Tom’s “Mom” was brown-skinned. (Cut to: a later-in-life epiphany that she was more than likely the help**)
Next came the “beautiful” gift from an uncle – a Gollywog in all its racist glory; this at a time when The Black and White Minstrel Show was just ending (thank fuckness for that).
I mean – what the FRIGGING hell? Are they supposed to be HUMANS? This was the shite of nightmares, helping to reinforce the pale ideology that black people would eat your children (me).
But – I woke up at around five, when I attended a multi-hued school. We’re talking Chinese kids, Nigerians, Indians and Pakistani kids, an Italian boy, a couple of Ethiopians…and guess what?
I was incensed: I’d been conned. I’d also been introduced to all sorts of cultures, languages, beautiful accents, and beautiful people. I was entranced and enchanted. And it was nothing to do with skin colour. (Well – tell a lie, it kind of was, insofar as I’d find myself staring into the velvet veneer of my Nigerian friend and wishing my tones were so rich and smooth instead of my skin having this frecklesome corned beef effect). But, envy aside, all of those colours simply merged into a wonderful evolutionary spectrum. Even at that age, this was some kind of cathartic experience for me, watching from the cheap seats as the young players performed their harmonious humanity.
And this above all else: they didn’t eat me.
Around the same time, Mum was doing her thing with Gone With The Wind. Over. And. Over. That flick never sat right with me. Not only did it bore the crap out of me, being around eighteen hours too long n’all, but I knew that the celebration of Southern Hospitality*** was clearly reliant upon the success of cruel slavery. I just didn’t know that I knew it.
West Side Story was another one – where I was parentally-informed that the Sharks were the baddies. The BADDIES? Why? Because they’re brown? Because they’re Latino? I didn’t buy into any of that crap, of course, and if anything, I was rooting for the Sharks all the way because – well, Riff was a dick, Baby John was an annoying little shit, and none of that lot could sing in tune. AND: Rita Moreno was really rather fucking awesome. (Shame about the brownface make-up for some of the cast, but that’s a whole ‘nother debate).
At ten or eleven, along came Harper Lee; I found myself considering things from her point of view, climbing inside her skin and walking around in it. This was the skin of a writer; one with the POWER to change the world. Lee was my catalytic convertor, mixing me up into a better product and spitting me out, refined. I’d gone from a kid harbouring white guilt into one that wanted to stand up and DO something about white privilege. I could be Atticus at this chess game of life – I could try. Even if I failed, Finchly, I could TRY.
So I looked into it some more. I learned about Rosa Parks and how she sat down for what she believed in. I learned about Martin Luther King, and nicked his dreams. I cried as I ate the Strange Fruit of Billie Holiday. I listened to it once, but heard it a thousand times. There was blood at the root, and that tall white tree needed uprooting.
My heart bled as I read that Nat King Cole was whited down, because he was just TOO BLACK for tv, damn it. SHAME on you, humans.
For those WHITE PEOPLE that need their PRIVILEGE explaining….come on a journey with me.
You’re in a store. The security guard eyeballs you and follows you around, because of COURSE you’re about to nick something; something the aforementioned security guard knows as FACT based on the colour of your WHITEY WHITE skin. Miraculously, you make it through, and as you get back into your car, so you play some white music because that’s ALL you people listen to. As you drive, so you are pulled over by cops because of your whiteness. At a party, someone asks you to sing, because ALL white people can sing, right? They also ask if they can touch your hair. Someone ELSE asks whence you hail. When you say Liverpool, they say “No – I mean which COUNTRY”. You say England, and they say “No – originally”.
The party takes its toll on you. You decide to walk home, wearing a hood because you are cold. Somebody stands their ground with a gun, and murders you to smithereens.
Crazy huh? But don’t worry. If you are white, those things will never happen to you. You WON’T be expected to explain yourself or describe your origins because nobody cares. Chances are your hair will be left alone and you won’t be profiled. You won’t nick from a store because only black people do that, right?
White privilege is a THING. It’s a massive THING. Don’t hide away from it or deny it – USE it. OWN it. LEARN from it. And TEACH.
I piss a lot of white people off; I know that. But of that number; the pissed are usually unworthy anyway – my true friends put up with (and even welcome) me and my rants. You’re white? Then you have privilege. I can’t stress it enough and I am happy to debate this with ANYONE until my lily white face turns blue.
And it’s the younger generation that usually gets the shit from the oldies. “The youth of today…” you’ll hear them sigh, as they then proceed to ramble on for sixteen weeks about how they fought in two world wars for this country… and how said country has turned into a haven for Somalians/Poles/look down your nose and insert label here…
The inner darkness thing pisses me off too. Why does everything dark have to have negative connotations? Not all bad things happen at night, for fuck’s sake. When I talk about my own deepness (this is waaaay different than depth, trust me), I refuse to call it a dark side. Not only does that sound a bit too Star Wars for my liking, it doesn’t even fit the bill.
Writing a horror story does not equate to my walking the wyddishins around a church to summon the devil. It means nothing more than a few words on a page, designed to give shivers to the skin. So, I call it my creative side; nothing more, nor less. It’s a vacation-place that I visit, because it’s where the best stories are. That’s all.
Then there are people who tell me to lay off the freaky stuff and talk about nature and trees and shit. However, I have no desire to praise the flowers whose petals have already become poems. I’d rather write about THIS. About people. Humans.
I’d rather write about how UKIP are Hitlers in gestation, starting out by brainwashery of the irretrievably stupid, or how Trump scares the ever-living fuck out of my remaining (and dwindling) hopes for humanity.
Immigrants. Bloody Immigrants…….for the sake of fuck’s big sister, we’re all immigrants, and yet none of us are. Our home was just one frigging landmass at one point: (image of supercontinent Pangaea stolen wholesale from http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/earth/earth_timeline/pangaea)
And contrary to popularly xenophobic belief, it’s NOT a fucking doddle getting in to the UK. The UK won’t buy you a house and give you benefits. Neither will it allow you to work straight away; it expects you to starve.
Don’t believe what you read or the bullshit you hear. Challenge everything. Someone calls the corner store the Paki Shop? Then ask them what they mean: “Do you speak of a place that sells Pakistani people”? And no – Paki is NOT just a contraction with which you can get off scot-free, arsehole.
Talk to your kids; often. Learn from them; always. They are but sponges, ready to soak up whatever liquid we drip in their direction.
And don’t give up your seat on the bus. Whatever the reason, stand up for what you believe in by remaining seated. For those who can’t defend themselves, stay seated for them, too. If there’s even a LITTLE Rosa in you, let her out and sit her on your shoulder.
Great things can happen when you sit down for what’s right.
And like some pawntaking chess match, the black-and-white board painstakingly squares up. It ruffles its rookfeathers, underneath a pale, darkened cloud. The only thing missing from the board? A few token shades of brown. It’s white that is the darkest shade of all. Queen takes rook.
The cloud bursts, and white rain drowns everyone.
Unless maybe…just maybe… whatever colour the sky, we start carrying umbrellas as standard.